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Scope of Judicial Review by Courts for recruitment to public services is narrow, re-evaluation of answer sheets in only exceptional circumstances: SC

The SC on May 6, 2020 {BIHAR STAFF SELECTION COMMISSION & ORS. v. ARUN KUMAR & ORS.} held that the scope of judicial review under Article 226 in matters concerning evaluation of candidates-particularly, for purpose of recruitment to public services is narrow. It was held that the previous decisions of the court have constantly underscored that in the absence of any provision for re-evaluation of answer sheets, judicial review should be rarely exercised - preferably under exceptional circumstances.

It was further held by the SC Bench, comprising of Justice S. RAVINDRA BHAT & Justice ROHINTON FALI NARIMAN, that given the clear declaration of law in the earlier judgments of the court,  the unilateral exercise of re-valuation undertaken by the High Court (both by the single judge and the Division Bench) has not solved, but rather contributed to the chaos. It was held that no rule or regulation was shown by any party during the hearing, which justified the approach that was adopted. Further held that the Bihar Staff Selection Commission (in short 'BSSC') acted correctly in the first instance, in referring the answers to a panel of experts. The SC held that if there were justifiable doubts about the recommendations of that panel, the least that should have been done, was to require the BSSC to refer the disputed or doubtful questions to another expert panel. It was held that was not done; the “corrections” indicated by the single judge were accepted by the BSSC; several candidates who made it to the select list freshly drawn up pursuant to his directions, were appointed. The SC held that the Division Bench, thereafter undertook the entire exercise afresh, compounding the matter further by not referring the disputed 17 questions to any panel of experts. It was held that the SC is left reiterating the lament that the High Court’s interference has not resulted in finality “to the result of the examinations” despite a long lapse of time. It was held that there is an air of uncertainty about the entire selection - nay, the entire cadre, because the inter se seniority of selected (and appointed) candidates is in a state of flux.

In the present on 18.06.2010, the BSSC issued an advertisement calling for applications for selection of candidates to 1569 vacancies in Class III posts, in various departments of the Government of Bihar. Examinations were conducted; on 12.04.2012, results of the preliminary examination were declared; this became the subject matter of challenge before the Patna High Court. The Single Judge of High Court, after calling for evaluation of the questions and the results published by experts, directed fresh declaration of results. By the impugned judgment, the Division Bench partly allowed the appeals.

The SC as a result of the above discussion held that the BSSC is directed to evaluate and publish the results afresh, in the light of the recommendations and report of the experts (constituted by this court) subject to care being taken by the BSSC and the Govt. of Bihar, not to disturb appointments made previously pursuant to the directions of the single judge. It was held that in case the number of selected candidates (on the basis of the revised result) exceeds the vacancies available as on the last date indicated for consideration (in the concerned recruitment or recruitments), the state of Bihar would accommodate the excess numbers in the relevant cadres as against future vacancies arising till 31.12.2019. The Supreme Court made these directions to put a quietus on the dispute, in exercise of its extraordinary powers under Article 142 of the Constitution of India.

Accordingly, the impugned judgment of the Patna High Court, as well as the judgment of the single judge were set aside; the appeals were disposed of in the above terms by the SC.

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